History professor wins national book prize
David Suisman


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10:44 a.m., June 18, 2010----David Suisman, assistant professor of history at the University of Delaware, has won the annual Hagley Prize, awarded to the best new book in business history, for his pioneering study Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music.

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The Business History Conference, an organization devoted to encouraging the research, writing and teaching of business history, conferred this honor upon Suisman at its recent meeting at the University of Georgia. The Hagley Prize citation called Selling Sounds “an important book that intertwines the history of business and culture in a remarkable way.”

Published in 2009 by the Harvard University Press, Selling Sounds uncovers the origins of the modern industry of popular music, tracing these origins to the publishers and promoters of sheet music in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. Driven by entrepreneurial zeal, with a keen eye for profits, these founders cultivated songwriters and developed formulas for light and catchy hit songs, brilliantly exploited the new technologies of the phonograph and radio, and turned music into a mass-produced, international commodity often emanating from a machine.

Larger firms swallowed up smaller ones, and popular music rose at the expense of serious music; creativity lost out as businessmen triumphed over artists. This, then, was music's “commercial revolution,” Suisman wrote, with popular music becoming an intangible property “stitched into the fabric of the nation as never before.”

Selling Sounds was also named a Choice “Outstanding Academic Title” of 2009 and is a finalist for the Award for Excellence of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections.

Suisman came to the University of Delaware in 2004, and he teaches U.S. cultural history. He won a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship in 2007-2008.

In addition to Selling Sounds, he has published, with his Department of History colleague Susan Strasser, Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, an edited volume.

Suisman was recently promoted to associate professor.

For more information about this prize-winning book, together with recordings of early 20th-century songs that the book treats, see the author's website.